Amazon Launched a ‘Sustainable’ Collection. Is That An Oxymoron?

Amazon Aware sustainable

Amazon is the latest company trying to cash in on the growing sustainability market. The e-commerce giant, which raked in $469.8 billion in net sales in 2021—a 22 percent increase from the previous year, has launched its own line of sustainable products, called Amazon Aware. 

From recycled denim jeans to vegan face cleansers housed in recycled aluminum bottles, Amazon’s new brand features “consciously created” everyday essentials. The brand’s products are made from a wide range of materials, such as organic cotton and recycled polyester, as well as bio-based ingredients.

The products—which sport a “Climate Pledge Friendly” badge—feature third-party sustainability certifications that are part of the company’s Climate Pledge Friendly program. These include ClimatePartner’s climate-neutral certification and Global Recycled Standard, which indicates that products were made using 50 percent recycled materials. Amazon launched the program back in 2020 to make it easier for customers to find sustainable products on its website. 

In 2019, Amazon co-founded the Climate Pledge, a commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. It vowed to make 50 percent of all shipments net-zero carbon by 2030, transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 (according to the company, it’s the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world), and put 100,000 electric delivery vehicles on the road by 2030. Amazon has also pledged $2 billion to support the development of decarbonizing technologies and $100 million for reforestation projects.

Amazon Aware
Amazon Aware features “consciously created” sustainable essentials. | Amazon

Why Amazon is falling short of its sustainability goals

Amazon Aware is undoubtedly an attempt at convincing consumers that Amazon is making great strides with its sustainability initiatives. 

“Amazon Aware also allows us to test and learn, and we will continue to innovate and create products and programs that help us reach our climate goals,” an Amazon spokesperson told LIVEKINDLY. “We know we have more work to do and we’re energized to continue to move forward.”

Amazon has ensured that all products included in the new collection are carbon neutral. In order to achieve this, the company offsets carbon emissions through carbon credits—tradable permits that allow the holder to emit one ton of carbon dioxide per credit. For example, a company that emits less carbon than its specified target amount can sell surplus credits to a company that emits more, otherwise the latter company would face a fine.

According to the brand’s 2020 progress report, it has achieved 65 percent renewable energy so far. But the report also shows that the company’s carbon footprint actually increased by 15 percent compared to the previous year. 

In 2020, Amazon’s operations emitted the equivalent of 60.64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide—1.64 million tons more than the country of Belarus emitted that same year. This is up from Amazon’s 2019 emissions, which were 51.17 million metric tons. The company reported the increase in emissions was due to the surge in online shopping amid the pandemic. But herein lies the flaw of the company’s business model: it cannot co-exist with Amazon’s sustainability goals. The company’s aim is to increase profit and ship more (hello, Amazon Prime), and adding a collection of “climate-friendly” goods to its website will not mitigate this impact.

In 2021, a new study by Pacific Environment and found Amazon to be among the top ten polluters in overseas shipping, joining the likes of Walmart, Target, and Nike. The company is also contributing to the world’s e-waste crisis. The same year, an investigation by ITV News alleged that Amazon warehouses in the UK destroy millions of unsold and returned items each year, from books to hairdryers and even laptops.

Despite Amazon’s foray into eco-friendly goods, the company—as a whole—is still anything but sustainable. While it’s progress, a program of over 200,000 Climate Pledge Friendly products does not mitigate the impact of the billions of unsustainable items Amazon sells each year. Not to mention the exorbitant fossil fuels and the sheer amount of plastic packaging used in shipping. The company generated 500 million pounds of the latter in 2019 alone. Ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana found that more than 22 million pounds of that figure wound up in oceans and rivers.

According to Amazon, it has reduced the weight of outbound packaging with each shipment by 36 percent and made progress in terms of sustainable shipping. In 2008, the company introduced Frustration-Free Packaging to incentivize manufacturers to package their products in 100 percent recyclable packaging. And in 2019, it launched a fully recyclable paper padded mailer.

Despite this, in 2020, Amazon’s plastic packaging waste surged to 599 million pounds, a 29 percent increase from the previous year, according to Oceana.

As the leading e-commerce site, Amazon can set the standard for environmental stewardship. | Amazon

Amazon workers demand more from the company

If Amazon wants to truly meet its commitments, it’s going to need to step it up on the sustainability front. Even its own workers are calling for change.

Unhappy with the company’s climate policies, Amazon workers launched the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice coalition. In April 2019, the group penned an open letter to Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos and the company’s board of directors urging them to make greater strides in the fight against the climate crisis. 

“We, the undersigned 8,701* Amazon employees, ask that you adopt the climate plan shareholder resolution and release a company-wide climate plan that incorporates the principles outlined in this letter,” they penned. The group’s proposal was rejected. In September 2019, Amazon employees walked out in support of the Global Climate Strike to protest the company’s inaction towards climate change.

Since Amazon is the leading e-commerce site, it has an incredible opportunity—and responsibility—to set the standard for environmental stewardship. Instead of creating a new brand of sustainable products, Amazon should be more stringent in ensuring its existing items are planet-friendly.